Though introduced to the world as a not-so-inspired Jackson Five ripoff, New Edition emerged into one of the most important groups of its generation and its members became the royalty of New Jack movement of the late 80s.
Formed by a quintet of Boston preteens in the late 70s, New Edition, then consisting of Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivens, Ralph Tresvant and Ronnie DeVoe, was signed by writer/producer/record company impresario Maurice Starr (who later would become the svengali behind New Kids on the Block) to his Streetwise label while the members were still early teens. The group's initial recording, 1983's "Candy Girl," was a melodic but schlocky J5 derivative that shot to the top of the Soul charts. This initial success led to the group's move to much larger MCA (and an extended legal battle with Starr over the group name).
Once at MCA, the hits started rolling in for New Edition, with teen-oriented cuts like "Mr. Telephone Man," "Lost In Love" and "Cool It Now" making the group very hot property. But internal strife resulted in Brown leaving the group in 1986 for a briefly monstrous solo career (his Don't Be Cruel album was the best selling disc of 1988), while the remaining quartet stumbled with Under the Blue Moon, an ill-advised album of 50s remakes. New Edition recovered through the addition of Johnny Gill, a legitimate star vocalist in the making, and the teaming with hitmakers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for Heart Break, the transitional album that turned New Edition from teen heartthrobs to legitimate adult stars.
Following the success of Heart Break, the members of New Edition struck individual gold, with Tresvant topping the charts on "Sensitivity," Gill scoring with "My My My" and Bell Biv Devoe hitting even bigger with "Poison." In addition, Michael Bivens became a starmaker in his own right, helping to launch the careers of Boyz II Men and Another Bad Creation.
By 1996, the individual careers of New Edition's members were faltering and the group reunited (with both Brown and Gill in tow) for Home Again, working with both P Diddy and Jam/Lewis. The album and the lead single "Hit Me Off" were wildly successful, and the accompanying tour was one of the year's biggest. Unfortunately, this group triumph did not translate into individual success, and by the year 2000 the members of New Edition were generally out of the limelight (save Brown, whose run ins with the law and marriage to Whitney Houston inevitably made him front page tabloid fodder).
The group reunited again in 2004 for One Love on P Diddy's Bad Boy label. Though it spawned no major hits, the album hit the top 10 on both Pop and Soul charts. They continued to perform individually and in various combinations over the rest of the decade. In 2011, New Edition announced that all six members would be reuniting to celebrate their 30th anniversary with both a new album and a tour. And despite some drama and a few breakups over the next decade, the sextet was back together for their 40th anniversary a decade later, looking and sounding great.
In retrospect, it would have been difficult to imagine from their debut that the members of New Edition would lead music into an important era and would become the prototype for a generation of singing groups. But their group talent and their consistently solid choice of producers and material resulted in a series of enjoyable albums and an enviable position in the musical history of the last quarter century.
By Chris Rizik